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Social Impact Archaeology: Pontefract Castle and the Gatehouse Project

Brendon Wilkins, Chris Casswell, Maggie Eno, Jodie Hannis, Maiya Pina-Dacier, Harriet Tatton and Johanna Ungemach

Cite this as: Wilkins, B., Casswell, C., Eno, M., Hannis, J, Pina-Dacier, M., Tatton, H. and Ungemach, J. 2021 Social Impact Archaeology: Pontefract Castle and the Gatehouse Project, Internet Archaeology 57.


Archaeology is said to add value to development, creating a deeper sense of place, community identity as well as improving health and wellbeing. Accentuating these wider social values has been welcomed by a profession keen to broaden its public relevance and legitimacy and protect its seat at the table in modern cultural life, but how much, if at all, do the public actually benefit from developer-led archaeology? Benefits to individuals and communities from archaeology projects are often abstract, intangible and difficult to attribute, and the discipline arguably lacks a satisfactory frame of reference around which it can express and design for these additional social values. Drawing on the language of social impact investing, this article will explore how the UK-based collaborative platform, DigVentures, has addressed this challenge. It introduces a 'Theory of Change' and 'Standards of Evidence' framework to account for the impact of development-led archaeology programmes, illustrating the causal links between activity and change through the case of the Pontefract Castle Gatehouse Project. It is complemented by a short documentary film exploring the spectrum of digital and physical opportunities for participation by the public alongside a team of highly experienced professional field archaeologists, demonstrating how development-led archaeology can be designed to accomplish far more than answer a planning brief.

Pontefract Castle Gatehouse Project (this video has audio)

Corresponding author: Brendon WilkinsORCID logo
Project Director, DigVentures

Full text

Video: Pontefract Castle

Figure 1: Aerial 3D model of Pontefract castle with the Gatehouse trench in the centre foreground (hosted by Sketchfab)

Figure 2: Local community participants digging at Pontefract Castle

Figure 3: The DigVentures evaluation framework, a toolkit consisting of a theory of change, standards of evidence and project specific evaluation matrix

Figure 4: DigVentures 'Theory of Change'

Figure 5: DigVentures 'Standards of Evidence'

Figure 6: Project-specific Evaluation Matrix

Figure 7: Community participants supervised in the drawbridge pit by professional archaeologists

Figure 8: Post-excavation ortho-image and plan of the Pontefract Castle drawbridge pit indicating depth below ordnance datum

Figure 9: Post-excavation 3D model of Pontefract Castle drawbridge pit (hosted by Sketchfab)

Figure 10: Finds room activities for children and families

Figure 11: Parent and child DigCamp excavation of the Victorian deposits

Figure 12: Age, gender and socioeconomic background of project participants

Figure 13: Average travel distance to site for visitors and participants

Figure 14: Age, gender and experience impact for site visitors

Casswell, C., Wilkins, B. and Westcott Wilkins, L. 2019 Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle: Project Design for a Community Archaeology Project, DigVentures.

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Wilkins, B. and Ungemach, J. 2020 'Public impact' in C. Casswell, N. Jackson, I. Jago, M. Pina-Dacier, H. Tatton, J. Ungemach and D. Wallace Gatehouse Project, Pontefract Castle: Community Archaeology Report Assessment Report, DigVentures.

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